Growing soft fruit is very cost-effective, as they’re usually the most expensive crops in the supermarket and are suitable for most small gardens and even containers, as they take up little room.
What do we mean by soft fruit? Well, think blueberries, raspberries, blackberries (and their hybrids like loganberries and tayberries), gooseberries and currants.
Soft fruit does best in well-drained, loamy soil. Before planting, dig over the patch to loosen the texture and add well-rotted manure or granular fertiliser.
Here’s how to plant and recommended planting distances:
If planted in a fruit bed, the soil must be lime-free, as they thrive on acid soils. If your soil is alkaline, try growing in a pot. Plant in a hole that is just deeper than the root ball. Firm in and water thoroughly.
Planting distance: 1m apart in full sun/partial shade.
Suitable for pots: At least 30cm in diameter for young plants, in ericaceous compost.
Best time to plant: Blueberries dislike being disturbed during the growing period, so late autumn or winter when they are dormant.
These much-loved berries are cane fruit and have summer or autumn fruiting, plus long cane varieties.
Canes need to be planted 1cm deeper than they were at the nursery – you’ll be able to see the soil mark. Plant in deep, rich well-drained, slightly acidic but moisture retentive soil in a sunny or partially shaded position. Avoid a windy site. Cut back canes to 5cm above soil level after planting. Keep well watered and top dress with a balanced fertiliser in spring. Do not hoe to remove weeds, as this can slice through growing shoots.
Long cane plants should not be cut back after planting, as they develop fruit-bearing side shoots at the top of each cane. In subsequent seasons, treat as regular canes.
Suitable for pots: Plant single canes in a 38cm container with canes for support in 80% multipurpose compost, 20% loam-based.
Planting distance: Space canes 40-45cm apart and allow 1.25-2m between rows of summer-fruiting varieties and at least 2m between rows of autumn-fruiting types.
Best time to plant: Between November and March, when plants are dormant.
Blackberries (and Hybrid Berries)
Blackberries are not the impenetrable brambles of old – many varieties are thornless with pretty flowers and autumn colour, so are ideal for use in an ornamental garden. They are also parents, along with raspberries, of many hybrid berries, such as boysenberries, loganberries, tayberries, etc, most of which are treated the same as blackberries.
They’re very easy to grow and unfussy – plant in well-drained but moisture-retentive soil in full sun or partial shade. Cover the rootball with 8cm soil and incorporate plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. Provide support with wires up walls and fences. Cut back to a healthy bud after planting to promote fresh growth.
Suitable for pots: Choose compact, thornless varieties, at least 42cm wide.
Planting distance: Space 2-4m apart, depending on variety.
Best time to plant: Winter-spring.
Gooseberries and Currants
Blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants and gooseberries are particularly rewarding to grow as they’re so expensive to grow commercially, being very difficult to pick on a large scale. For all varieties, avoid planting anywhere susceptible to late spring frosts and enrich soil with well-rotted manure or compost and a spring top-dressing of Growmore.
Currants like a moisture-retentive soil in an open position in full sun or partial shade. After planting, cut blackcurrants down to 8-10cm above ground level and prune the stems of red and white currants and back by about half.
Gooseberries prefer a deep, well-drained but moisture-retentive soil in full sun or light shade. Shallow soil will result in poor-sized fruit. Cut stems back by about half after planting.
Planting distance: Space currant bushes 1-1.25m apart, gooseberries 1.25m apart.
Suitable for containers:Yes but repot regularly and top-dress with new soil each spring – avoid spiny gooseberry cultivars.
Best time to plant: November-March.
Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist who runs www.mandycanudigit.com.
A plantaholic with roots firmly planted in working-class NE England, she aims to make gardening more accessible to the often excluded – the less able, the hard-up or beginners.
Advocate of gardening for better mental health.